Bruce Lee and “Think and Grow Rich”

Let’s take a look at how Bruce Lee used “Think And Grow Rich.”

Bruce Lee 2.png

My Definite Chief Aim”:

“I, Bruce Lee, will be the first highest paid Oriental super star in the United States.  In return I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor.  Starting 1970 I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession $10,000,000.  I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.”-Bruce Lee, Jan 1969

Let’s analyze this a bit, from a couple of different angles. (Before we begin, shall we notice the beautiful penmanship?  Doesn’t that imply a level of economical flow that maximizes thought and effort?  It certainly does to me.)

First, the six steps mentioned in TAGR’s second chapter:

1) Did he know exactly what he wanted to achieve, money-wise?  Yes he did.  “Highest paid” and “$10,000,000” speak very clearly to that.

2) Did he know exactly what he was going to give in return?  Yes, he did: “The most exciting performances” is an understatement: Lee’s on-screen personae blazed so hot he is still the most dominant Martial Arts personality, more than forty years after his death.

3) Definite Date? Yep.

4)Definite plan? Yep.   He tried to crush it in  Hollywood, got side-lined by being “too Asian”, went to Hong Kong and became a star in his own pond, until his films were imported back to the U.S. And became sensations, and then Hollywood came knocking. His vehicle was to present the cinematic IMAGE of being the most lethal human being in the world, and at this he probably succeeded.  It required superhuman discipline and effort and an almost protean genius at synthesizing…but he did it.

5) Write it down?  Obviously.

6) Read it daily?  Presumably—he certainly followed all the other instructions.

The results were obvious.   But…we also need to be realistic and ask: at what cost?  Linda Lee’s biography of her husband suggested that he was hugely angry and wounded about the images of Chinese and Asians in American cinema.  This would be combined with memories of China’s humiliation at the hands of Japan, Russia, and England.  Remember “Sick Man of Asia”?  “No dogs or Chinese allowed”?  Robert Baker as a Russian M.A. Champion Lee slaughtered, all in “Chinese Connection”?   Baker was the ONLY white character in the entire film, and just as I believe that the killing of the ONLY black character (or male character) in American films is a symptom of lesser perceived value and outright fear and hostility, so was it in “Chinese Connection.”   Baker was there to die, to establish, by representing an entire threatening group, that “Chinese are not sick men.”

Bruce died in 1973, just before his ultimate triumph, “Enter The Dragon” reached the screens.  Some would say he failed, or made a mistake: the easiest explanation for his death is that he trained every day as if going out for the Olympics, and honed himself to a Shaolin edge while living a Hollywood lifestyle. Not a great combination.

But…is there a lesson here?

Well, I’ve spoken of the impact of the movie “All That Jazz” on me. 1979, when I was 27.   The barely fictionalized story of  Bob Fosse, a man who turned himself inside-out for excellence, living the life of sex, drugs, and musical theater. The people who really loved him got his emotional scraps. The people he worked himself to death for were negotiating to replace him while he was still  in open-heart surgery.

I walked out of that movie in a daze: I was convinced that I HAD to succeed, or be crushed by life. And the path to success was obsession, spending more time and energy than any competitor.  You can’t get something for nothing, and high levels of success demand a high price.

So that was the paradox: accomplishment required obsession, obsession throws you out of balance, acceleration out of balance destroys the organism/mechanism, leaving you too dead to enjoy your accomplishments.  I was trapped.

And that was when I had one of the best insights ever in my life: the one thing it was safest to be obsessive about…was balance.

I chose body, career, relationship.   Should have gone deeper, realizing that I was set up to MAKE money, but not to MANAGE it responsibly.  I’d simply had no training in that, and it existed in my blind spot.   (More on this later, but if I’d simply committed to saving 10% of everything I earned, all would have been well—that single change would have forced an entire raft of attitude and behavior shifts.)

Can that be applied to other arenas as well?  The idea of reserving a little energy, a little emotion, a little time…for yourself?  “Paying yourself first” in these other arenas?

Well…back to Bruce.   When I hear people mourning Muhammad Ali for the damage he took in the ring, I have to suspect that he lived as he chose.  Everyone dies, but few leave such a magnificent legacy.

When Prince died, I saw a lot of head-shaking about how he pushed himself too hard.  Well, maybe. I can only remember the comments by those who knew him suggesting that his highest value was the music itself. It was alive, and perfectly important. He himself was insignificant in comparison.

And Bruce?   He wanted to transform the world image of the Chinese male, which had been thoroughly emasculated by limited the roles actual Asian actors could play, and if there WAS a dynamic role?   Mr. Moto, Charlie Chan, Kwai Chang Kane, Chuin, Fu Manchu, Dr. No or whatever?

They were played by whites in makeup, allowing Europeans to control the image systems to their advantage. Trust me: you NEVER want the images of your group to be controlled by your competitors.  Doesn’t work out too well.  Ever.

One way of looking at Bruce was that he simply worked himself to death.  And…considering everything I know about him, I suspect it was worth it.  But on the other hand, his son Brandon would have been the intended inheritor of his kingdom, the beneficiary of his sacrifice.  And Brandon died in a tragic accident.

So it is easy to imagine that Bruce’s spirit would have mixed feelings about the result. It is one thing to die or risk death for your children—that is common human behavior.   But just maybe, Bruce’s spirit might wish he’d gone for a bit more balance.  Gone a little slower, stuck around a little longer.

In which case…what might he have done?   

He might have added “health” to what he wished to achieve.  He was about as “fit” as a human being could be, but “health” is not the same thing as “fitness.”   It might have taken him longer to achieve his goals, yes…but that might have been worth it.

(On the other hand, while working on “Game of Death”, the movie interrupted by the call from Hollywood to make “Enter The Dragon”, he reportedly confessed to a friend that he was afraid that he couldn’t keep pushing himself so hard.  That he couldn’t maintain the physical and mental edge that gave him his cinematic image, that allowed him to achieve his personal goals and gave him the chance to achieve the social ones…)

I cannot claim to know his values, and it is possible that he made the right choice, the choice most in alignment with his deep values.

Everyone dies. Not everyone changes the world.

So many world-changers have known that they were risking their lives to accomplish their dreams.    One thing that unleashes the full spectrum of our capacities is deciding what we are willing to go 100% for.  To make our peace with what happens if we take our brakes off, risking social scorn, personal loss, shunning, prison, even death.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

There was Bruce, who changed the world.  And plausibly, died in the process.  And just maybe it was worth it.  But if it wasn’t…

Then he is a wonderful example for us, on multiple fronts.   If you align your personal goals with your social/spiritual goals, you open the doors to achievement on a massive level.  I humbly suggest that your goals include health and longevity, love, peace of mind and financial abundance and stability.   All of them at once.

You may be temporarily out-performed in one or another arena by someone willing to damage themselves to accomplish, to squeeze all their humanity into a narrow funnel to beat their competitors…

And only you know what your deepest values are. What you are willing to die or sacrifice for. Just be sure you are clear on those values, which will influence your beliefs and goals, which determine your actions, which will, in interaction with reality, produce your results.

Also be sure that what you are doing is so aligned with your values that the day to day struggle itself has meaning—none of us know how long we will live, or how reality may react to our behaviors.

Moses doesn’t always get to enter the promised land.  That’s the deal.

So be damned sure you’ll enjoy the journey…in alignment with your personal goals…in alignment with your social and spiritual goals.  All aligned, you can take your brakes off and go for it as few human beings ever do.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Sleep well, Bruce. You made a difference.  And ultimately…paid no higher a price than most people pay to live lives of quiet desperation.

A dragon indeed.





  1. Wow Steven, how did you find Bruce Lee’s handwritten “Think And Grow Rich” statement?
    Has it been published before?

    The “B” in his Bruce is very interesting. It is almost obliterated, almost unrecognizable. What would a professional Graphologist have to say about his handwriting?

    Thanks for sharing it with all of us. His statement is inspiring.

    Barbara Vickers


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